UNTIL THE WHEELS COME OFF (2022, doc)


Greetings again from the darkness.  Who among us doesn’t enjoy a nice, leisurely bike road around the neighborhood? Taking in the fresh air while getting a little exercise is good for the mind, body, and soul. While golf has been described as “a good walk spoiled”, after watching this documentary, I believe it’s safe to say that the Race Across America (RAAM) is “a good ride spoiled.” RAAM is an ultra-endurance bicycle race that begins in Oceanside, California and winds across the continent to the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland.

For those counting, that’s 3071 laborious and tortuous miles pedaling through desert, mountains, plains, and just about all types of weather. And if that’s not enough, most of the ride is on open road where the danger of automobile and truck traffic is usually present. Oh, and riders get very little sleep, must meet certain markers within a given timeline to stay eligible, and require a full team to help prevent death, injury, starvation, dehydration, or insanity. To put this in perspective, we are told a rider would need to average 10.5 mph for 12 days riding 24 hours per day. While that is obviously unsustainable for humans, you should know that those who finish, typically do so in 8-12 days, while riding 20+ hours per day. That, my friends, is why they call it ultra-endurance.

Those are the details to know about the race itself, but this is really the story of one man and his crew. John Tarlton’s daughter kicks things off by explaining that “my dad” finished the RAAM in 2014 and is preparing to go again for 2019 (the basis for this project). We learn only about 300 riders have ever finished the race, and Mr. Tarlton explains that he will be much better prepared this time, with a goal of winning his age 50-59 bracket. Joining his crew this time will be his wife Jeanne, and their kids … turning this into a true family experience (or nightmare, depending on your perspective).

Climbers go up Everest “because it’s there”, and clearly this is just another way to push one’s mind and body to the extreme … an extreme most of us will never experience ourselves, especially after watching the pain endured by Tarlton and his family. If you’ve watched a loved one suffer with an illness, you know how difficult it can be. What about a loved one who chooses to suffer? His family is there as his body slowly deteriorates and his tired mind becomes muddled. In addition, we witness some of the tension and drama as it unfolds within his crew – something that obviously doesn’t help in these circumstances. In fact, the only downside here is that Tarlton’s wife (the film’s producer) pushes a bit too hard on her own story, rather than the guy pushing through exhaustion and pain.

Tarlton rides to raise money for the Stanford Cancer Institute, though we are never quite sure how the fundraising is handled. This is definitely not a cheap hobby, nor is it one for the masses. You are either the type that wants to push your body, mind, and finances to the limit, or you’re not. Described here as “a defining life experience”, it’s a race where the clock never stops and the scenery is unparalleled (though riders are likely too groggy to appreciate it). Don’t confuse this race with the Tour de France (stages over 3 weeks) or this movie with the HBO documentary, TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF.

Available on VOD

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